Triboluminescence Observed on Perito Moreno Glacier

September 21, 2022

Glaciar baja (1)

Photographer: Rodrigo Terren  

Summary Author: Rodrigo Terren; Jim Foster 

The photo above shows an unusual luminescent phenomenon observed during the rupture of the glacier walls in a portion of the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Province of Santa Cruz, Argentina. We were photographing this glacier one night this past August (winter in Southern Hemisphere) when hearing a very loud cracking sound, suddenly noticed that an area of the ice wall had brightened – the white blotches on glacier at lower right center. It remained illuminated for more than ten minutes. This brightening is attributed to triboluminescence. When a material, such as a quartz crystal or even a life saver hard candy is pulled apart, crushed, or snapped, light will sometimes be emitted. Though this phenomenon is poorly understood and rarely observed on such a large scale, it seems to be caused by the rapid separation and reunification of static electrical charges in some brittle solids. 

The long exposure (several minutes) used to capture the brightening results in the star trails. Photo taken on April 29, 2022.


Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina Coordinates: -50.469380, -73.029940

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Perito Moreno Glacier